Masterchef EPs and judges on why ‘seamless brand integration’ is vital to the show’s commercial appeal

Brands and advertisers keep returning to Ten's Masterchef Australia year after year. Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson caught up with the Masterchef judges, as well as executive producers Marty Benson and Rick Maier, to chat about the show's commercial appeal ahead of its 2021 premiere.

Masterchef Australia had a lot going for it last year. The Back To Win concept delivered consistently strong ratings as former contestants returned and lockdowns encouraged Aussies to use their kitchen.

This year, a more traditional format returns, with everyday Aussies facing off against one another under the watchful eye of judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen.

While previous stars may not be included this time around, and Australians roam freely in society again, the judges, and EPs Marty Benson of Endemol Shine Australia and Rick Maier of Ten, believe the proposition for viewers and brands is as strong as ever.

“There’s a huge appetite for Masterchef. It’s like the AFL or the rugby… just another season all over again,” Benson tells Mumbrella. “Last year was a great way to introduce our new judges.

“But this year it’s even more exciting for our new judges, because it’s their first opportunity to meet ordinary people and really to coach them through this extraordinary process to see them cook incredible food.”

Ten’s head of drama and executive production, Rick Maier

Ten’s head of drama and executive production, Maier, says Masterchef has remained a “premium brand” for Ten, before and after COVID. “MasterChef Australia is a seasonal treat. It was comforting during the peak of COVID, but we hope just as reassuring now. In that sense we don’t regard it as just another program in the schedule.

“We’re very happy everyone knows this show is on Ten. We’re also happy it tells you a lot about our culture, our clients, and our audience. It’s a premium brand for us for that reason, and it attracts premium clients as a result.”

Judge Jock Zonfrillo doesn’t buy into the fact that lockdowns last year were even that much of an advantage for the show. “I think there are equally as many disadvantages of everyone being at home. I think subscription numbers went through the absolute roof [last year],” he says.

“So it’s fair to say that there were actually less people watching normal TV than previously. [Now] it’s back to the way Masterchef has been traditionally. So I’m enjoying that part of it. I’m sure that the people watching a home will as well.”

Masterchef has historically been a strong proposition for brands, and 2021 will be no exception. Benson says that it’s all about “seamless integration”.

“All of our sponsorship is pretty seamless, it’s done in a very slick manner, so you don’t feel like you’re being slapped on the face.

“With food brands it just makes sense. Deliveroo has come back for a challenge this year. Home delivery and we’re a food show, so why would we not do a food delivery challenge?

Shine Australia executive producer Marty Benson

Andy Allen, who brings a unique perspective having started out as a contestant and now being a judge, says brands have good experiences with the show, simply because the cast and crew are all such good people.

“It’s a good thing. It is such a good thing to work on and be a part of. If you’re a judge, a director, producer, the guys that wash the dishes, or a brand, it’s just such a good environment. They have a good experience, and get bang for their buck.”

Melissa Leong agrees. “For brands to be involved in the show, you’re part of something special. They’re aware of the implicit magic that is in the air, in that studio. So why you wouldn’t want to be involved in that is anyone’s guess.”

As well as long-standing relationships with brands like Coles, Masterchef has always been good at attracting new brands. And not just food brands either. Over the years, the production team has become skilled at integrating products and brands that might not outwardly be the most obvious partners.

Benson reveals that one such brand to join this year is tech company Samsung. “It’s very exciting. Samsung has come on board for a challenge where we’ve got the contestant to basically go out and be inspired by the city”.

Another big win for advertisers and sponsors is getting to be involved in the consulting process when they sponsor a segment or challenge. Sponsors including Tourism Victoria among others were brought into the process to ensure the brand integration was as tight as possible.

Andy Allen, Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo

Being part of the show opens up opportunities for the judges too in terms of ambassadorships inside and outside Masterchef.

“This is all new to me. Jock’s been doing this sort of brand collaboration stuff for a lot longer than me. This is all very new territory for me,” Leong says.

“Partnering with Lexus and being an ambassador for them or working with brands like Olay. For me, that’s new.

“But I always try to find a sense of authenticity within that relationship. So it has to sit well with my values and who I am.”

What can audiences expect from this season? Maier says it’s all about relatable contestants, great food, big-name celebrity chefs, and challenges that take the show to beautiful locations around Australia.

“The contestants? Brilliant. The production values? Next level. Marty Benson and his team at Endemol Shine Australia are the best in the business. This is a show that is always reaching for ways to surprise and delight.

“Nigella, Heston, Yotam, Curtis, Massimo and the very best local chefs make their mark. We’re also on the road again out of the kitchen in rural Victoria and the N.T.

“And as I mentioned before: the enthusiasm of this new crop of cooks is infectious. I think you would struggle to watch this season without a big smile on your face. I’m pretty sure Melissa, Andy and Jock would agree. Bring it on.”

Masterchef premieres tonight at 7:30pm on Ten and 10play.


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